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Feather River Bulletin
Quincy, California
May 7, 2014     Feather River Bulletin
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May 7, 2014

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i1 vveonesaay, May 7, 2014 ouuuun, I.rlU, I"lUyf",&apos;,lV, I'lJUItr COMMUNITY }ERSPECTIVE Opponents should agree on use of fire to save forests WHERE ] STAND KEITH CRUMMER REGISTERED FORESTER RETIRED ALMANOR DISTRICT RANGER the buildup of brush, trees, downed logs and debris. In my 34 years of involvement in fighting forest fires I saw the decreasing success in controlling wildfires, though tactics and equipment had improved. In the past 20 years since I retired the problem has obviously increased to the point where fires which escape initial attack forces are most often not controllable until favorable weather conditions develop. Very often with the onset of winter. Early fires were frequent, light and quick. The frequency was largely dependent on the buildup of fine fuels such as leaves, twigs and needles. Fire did linger on a downed log and torched in dense young growth. Crown fires were rare and flame heights through the light ground fuels were mostly 2 to 3 feet. I have personally witnessed 300-foot crowning flame heights in some modern fires. Flame fronts which were often 2 to 3 feet in width have grown to a mile or more due to the preponderance of heavy ground and aerial fuels. This results in fire often "spotting" ahead of the flame front for a mile or more. The early mixed conifer forests in the west side of the Sierra Nevada and Southern Cascade Region were dominated by pines, which were better able to survive these light burns than were the firs and incense cedar. Oaks and aspen were abundant because of their sprouting abilities. Older oaks and conifers were resistant to ground fire mortality because of their thick bark. With decreased fire frequency, due to essential suppression actions, the more shade-tolerant conifer species, white fir and incense cedar, were able to become established under the overstory dominated by the light-demanding pines and Douglas fir. The shade under the white firs and incense cedar is more dense than that provided by the more open canopy of pines. This allowed the newly established dense understory to shade out most of the slower-growing pine seedlings, killing them before they could become mature. As a result there is an ongoing ecological shift from the open pine forest to a closed fir and cedar dominated forest. This can be seen along many of our highways where most all the Older conifers are pines whereas nearly all the understory is dominated by fir and cedar. Consequently the availability of sunlight on the forest floor has been drastically reduced, shading out much of the previously abundant grass and forb species. With this reduction in plant diversity came a reduction in Lake Almanor Memorial Weekend Cra00 Pair ........ z+ & - I This paper printed an interesting article on forest products utilization by the Sierra Institute. It was well done. There are several other benefits to restoring our once-great forests to a more ecologically sustainable condition, however. The current forest condition is unprecedented since before Europeans settled on this land. This is especially true of publicly owned forest lands. The European lifestyle which eventually overlaid the land made fire suppression inevitable as the new settlers established fixed ownership of land and built permanent wooden homes on their parcels. If one farmer chose to grow grain crops on his land it prevented his neighbor from continuing underburning on his adjacent forested parcel. Before that, frequent fires, started by lightning or set by the first native peoples, kept the forest fuels from building to the extreme levels that we find now. John Muir wrote of the inviting openness of the forest and abundance of grasses and flowers on the forest floor. He called the Sierra Nevada "the range of light" because of this welcoming openness. This oPenness is largely gone, along with its greater diversity of plants and animals. Early writers noted that they were able to run on horseback freely through the open forest. They could see a quarter-mile through the trees. Later that had become impossible due to Chest:er. Far]< " " loam - ZkF)m Looking th00t uniqu00 Come see 9our 00avorite and new artisans! I 5pon00o00o(t ,L,,T.,- o animal species as well. Deer feed on light-demanding brush species and so their populations have dropped. Elk, being grazers, no longer inhabit our local forests because grass cannot grow in the decreased intensity of sunlight. Our dry meadows are rapidly being taken over by conifers, as can be seen in comparing historic aerial photography with that of the present day. The reduction in available moisture due to the increased density of upslope forests has encouraged the invasion of conifers into most wet meadows, reducing their extent as well. Stream flows have been reduced by the interception of rain and snow in the increasing density of the now multilayered forests. This interception allows for greater evaporation of rainwater and sublimation of snow trapped in the forest canopy. The denser and more numerous the layers in a forest the greater the water entrapment capacity. I did a small one-year study on my property which indicated that there was a greater than 37 percent reduction in water reaching the soil during that dryer-than-average year (when comparing open land to closed-canopy forest). Restoring our forests to prehistoric conditions would increase the available moisture to downstream users even without building new catchments. Modern fires quickly rise through the dense understory and climb to the upper canopy, creating crown fires. These fires kill even the largest trees. This opens the forest canopy, allowing direct raindrop impact to the ash-covered soil beneath. The deep ash is hydrophobic itself but also clogs the natural tmres of thee.. , soil beneath. This results in accelerated runoff and erosion. The loss of the most fertile top layer of soil to silt in downstream lakes and rivers doubles the disaster. Today's fires not only burn longer but with greater intensity. This results in the complete consumption of organic matter not only on the ground surface but, very often, into that upper, most fertile, layer of soil. Soil nitrogen and other essential nutrients are lost and the fertility is reduced. The lighter prehistoric fires left enough organic matter on and in the soil to capture much of the nutrients released in the ash left by the lighter fires. Most often, after these lighter fires, the soil fertility actually increased. The trees killed by a first modern fire pose an even greater threat for damage from a subsequent wildfire. Fire killed trees eventually fall to the forest floor, forming heavy fuels. Brush seedlings rapidly fill in, replacing the lost understory vegetation. A few years after the first fire, the fuels for a return blaze are in place. This second fire will be even more intense and damaging to the soils and watershed because of the increased fuel loading from the dead trees left from the first fire. In addition, safety concerns preclude firefighting forces from directly attacking on the ground because of the jackstraw of logs and dead standing trees left from the first fire. Thus the most effective suppression actions cannot take place until the second fire has passed through the area of the first fire and comes out an even greater inferno. This was the case with the Storrie Fire as a precursor to the Chips Fire that followed. Our Deer Creek Canyon has likewise beer set p Joy the:; i. past Cub Fire for the same inevitable disaster. Many folks advocate light, spring prescribed fire as a way to reduce the forest fuels and obviate the catastrophic fires of late summer and fall. There are two obvious poblems with this. First, if the fire is intense enough to significantly reduce the heavy ground fuels, it will kill the over-wood as well, destroying the forest to save the trees. There is just too much energy locked in dense forest fuels. The window of opportunity for this action, without pre-treatment of the fuels by thinning and removal, has closed in all but the rarest cases, in our Sierra/Cascade range at least. Second, the passage of the Clean Air Act made the point moot anyway. Studies have shown that about 7 million acres were lightly burned on the average year before suppression intervention. That is what it would take to restore and maintain our ecosystems using fire onlyl Not an option. We must face the fact that many early California ecosystems are fire dependent. They were maintained by the positive intervention of our aboriginal predecessors. It will take modern intervention to remove excess forest fuels restoring those ecosystems to their previous health and productivity. The science and equipment are there to undertake this awesome task. The only thing lacking is the support of the environmental industry and their political allies, rather than their continued obstruction. Amazingly, these supposed allies are the greatest barriers to the restoration of our public forest ecosystems. As is often the case, emotions are being manipulated to overcome facts. Maintained ignorance has become a tool for money and forest ecosystems. Make Mother's Day Special! 258-4543 Sonshine Tlowers Choose your flowers - Order Early or come by and pick out an arrangement from the display. Plants Gifts Bath & Body Stuffed Animals 212 Main St., Chester , Local and Worldwide Delivery Road all about it on our Website! Post offices collect food Local post offices will hold their Stamp Out Hunger campaign May 10. Letter carriers will be collecting food for families in need. To participate, collect and bag nonperishable food items. Place the bag by the mailbox May 10. The letter carrier will pick it up for delivery to the local food bank. This applies to all Plumas County mailboxes and post office boxes inside post office lobbies. Hampers are also available in local post offices to receive food donations. SEAML GUI00ERS Save decks & siding from water damage Downspouts water diverter Custom installation Adds value & appeal to your house 22 Different Colors FREE ESTIMA00 257-7875 KI r'G'00li Michael Kirack, Owner/Bu der ..... .... CONSTRUCTION, INC 2; ",2